Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Africa to speak in one voice on key issues to boost women’s economic empowerment at CSW61


Africa to speak in one voice on key issues to boost women’s economic empowerment at CSW61

Africa to speak in one voice on key issues to boost women’s economic empowerment at CSW61
Photo credit: UN Women | Martha Wanjala

The Africa Ministerial Pre-Consultative Meeting convened in Addis Ababa to prepare for the upcoming 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) concluded successfully with a unified Africa position, “One Africa One Voice”.

Held from 26-27 January, the meeting gathered 235 participants, including 46 Member States represented by Ministers of Gender and Women’s Affairs, senior government officials and Ambassadors to the African Union (AU) at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Headquarters in Ethiopia. Also present were senior officials from the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations system, development partners and representatives of civil society organizations, including youth and young women’s organizations.

The meeting served as a platform to develop key messages and strategies that would shape Africa’s position and advocacy for the outcome negotiations at CSW 61, to be held in New York from 13-24 March, focusing on the theme of “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”.

In her opening remarks, the UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, emphasized that as the largest regional block within the United Nations, “Africa has the potential to influence key decisions in the United Nations, including outcomes of the Commission on the Status of Women and other intergovernmental processes.”

During the meeting, participants recognized the importance of addressing women’s rights to decent work and full and productive employment, and reaffirmed that realizing women’s economic empowerment requires transformative and structural changes. Member States engaged key stakeholders, including the private sector, youth, faith-based organizations, civil society and development partners, in discussions on how to support governments to ensure women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work, marked by innovations, technology and data revolution. Also highlighted throughout the meeting was the diverse contexts of African countries and that the countries in conflict, post-conflict and fragile contexts have unique and specific needs.

In the closing session, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission at the time, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, appealed to the participants to continue to ensure that the women’s rights agenda is not reversed, stressing that gender equality and women’s empowerment must be ensured for future generations. Appealing to the youth, she called on them to acknowledge that their “horizons are much wider than ours” and that they could “go further…and [have] what it takes to reach beyond the skies”.

The two-day meeting built consensus that the focus should be on: strengthening investments in the demographic dividend of African women and youth, particularly young women; implementing gender-responsive macro-economic policies; strengthening accountability mechanisms for women’s economic empowerment; and ensuring women’s full, equal and effective participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making concerning economic and social policies. The discussions also highlighted women’s leadership in peace, security and humanitarian action; achieving safe and informed mobility for women locally, nationally, regionally and internationally; enhancing social protection policies, infrastructure and public services for women; ensuring women’s full access to and control over productive resources, services and markets; and eliminating discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and stereotypes that hinder the protection and progress of women in the world of work.

As the meeting concluded, UN Women Executive Director Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka urged Member States to build on the momentum gained during the meeting as they head into CSW61 negotiations. She also proposed a systematic evaluation in 2020 to measure progress in key areas, such as equal pay for equal value of work, the level and quality of participation of women in all decision-making bodies, the participation of young people, the adaption of policies that better address the abnormalities in the informal sector and on discriminatory laws.

“As Africa, we need to be a leading positive catalyst”

Closing remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the Africa Pre-CSW 61 Consultations in Addis Ababa

Let me thank all of you for the fruitful discussion we have had on the important topics covering the opportunities and challenges that are presented by Africa’s demographic profile. I thank you too for our pre-CSW 61 discussions, and the plans we are engaged in that aim at building one strong African voice for CSW 61. It is a voice that will make sure that African concerns are well-considered in the Agreed Conclusions; a voice that will make sure that Africa’s Member States, who make up more than 25 per cent of the UN, will work in Africa’s favour, and in support of a progressive global agenda that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The discussions we have had are very important and timely, given the unique opportunity for Africa to be an even stronger leader within the G77 plus China group, and within the UN. This is an opportunity that we need to take full advantage of.

The meeting also helped to explain how the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) works, which is especially important for the new Ministers of Gender. I thank you for your interest and your questions and for the attention you paid to get to the fundamentals of CSW. I also want to thank all of you for the intense discussions we had in the Gender is my Agenda Campaign, and all of the four days, especially the active participation of civil society as well as youth.

We discussed practical steps to ensure that the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Gender work collaboratively during CSW. We discussed that we do not allow experts to renegotiate positions that have already been adopted by the Member States, such as those within the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW, and the Maputo Protocol as well as the SDGs. In that regard, we were pleased to have a meeting between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, our STC representatives, where we discussed a common approach to the deliberations at CSW 61 and beyond.

CSW is the biggest intergovernmental body in the world that considers matters affecting women and girls; it is also affected by the geopolitics of the day. We recognized how the changing geopolitics could impact CSW 61 negotiations because it will be the first big intergovernmental body that will meet after the many changes. We bear in mind that, as Africa, we need to be a leading positive catalyst on that global stage and help guide the intergovernmental politics at our CSW 61 to reach positive conclusions.

Our deliberations here in Addis have produced forward-looking conclusions, and the strength of our ministers has been truly encouraging.

We agreed to renewed efforts to invest in young women’s and girls’ education, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and to ensure that comprehensive sexuality education is accessible as means to protect the youth from unwanted pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, and to protect their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, as envisaged in the Maputo Protocol.

We agreed to invest in agro-business and for women to be a part of this growing industry. We highlighted the importance of investing in the green economy and leveraging the digital revolution, especially for our youth.

We agreed that we will strengthen the Youth CSW as one of the platforms that we will use to build young women and girls as leaders within their countries and the world. So, I ask countries to make sure that your delegation to the CSW includes youth and civil society, and that national delegations will work together as a team.

We agreed to ensure that, as we reinforce access to education for girls, we will also ensure retention, completion and giving girls second chances in education.

We also agreed to recognize that we need targeted approaches to special needs for women in conflict, post-conflict and fragile states, so that our efforts to empower them economically are in context.

We agreed to make sure that we reduce the burden of unpaid care work on women, including by supporting the development of infrastructure, especially water, sanitation and energy. We saw the importance of extending affordable child care as a part of reducing the burden of care on women.

We also adopted coordinated approaches against transnational slavery, human trafficking, and the shocking exploitation of women and girls, and agreed to bring this to the attention of the world, as this is the scourge that we must be committed to end.

We agreed to accelerate the recognition of women’s land rights and to ensure that the benefits of this industry fully accrue to women.

We have proposed ways of building on the momentum that we have gained here in order to make sure that when we reach CSW, and when we discuss the theme of the changing world of work and its impact on women, we will be fully cognizant of all our continent’s complexities.

We encouraged one another to celebrate International Women’s Day loudly, in all our countries. We will make sure that we embrace the theme of International Women’s Day, which covers the women’s world of work, but also focuses on reaching Planet 50-50 by 2030 – achieving substantive gender equality by 2030. The SDGs are a roadmap that will guide us to that destination.

I want to highlight the fact that UN Women is proposing that we evaluate progress in 2020. This will be 25 years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

We would like to see that we have made progress on equal pay by 2020. The Millennials and the young people must not experience unequal pay like we have done.

As UN Women we are proposing that in 2020 we systematically evaluate the level and the quality of participation of women in all decision-making bodies, as well as the participation of young people. We also want in that year to evaluate how far we have come with adapting our macroeconomic and fiscal policies to be able to address the abnormalities in the informal sector. In addition, we would like in 2020 to look at the progress we make in addressing the laws that discriminate against women. As we speak, 80 per cent of countries in the world still have one or more laws that discriminate again women, with a number of them on our continent.

We also agreed that we will ask this forum to make sure that in 2020 we have a systematic mechanism to evaluate the progress that we will be making in relation to ending FGM and child, early and forced marriages. We also as UN Women would like to see that by 2020 we have a formidable programme to address and to provide second chances to women and girls who left school before it was time.

So, we have an intensive programme, because if we achieve in all of these key areas we can bring about change that lasts.

We have recognized that with all the work we have done in the 20 years of advancing the Beijing Platform for Action, we have gone forward and we have also gone backwards. We have therefore looked at the areas that we need to work on so that the changes we need to make will not be taken away from us.

Thank you for giving us an opportunity to listen to you, and to urge you to work with us in these joint endeavors.

I would also ask us all to wish Madame Chair well as she embarks on her new journey. As we bid you farewell, Madame Chair, we want to thank you for your hard work and for raising the agenda for women to this high level within the AU and beyond. You leave a legacy that we are all committed to protect and to heighten to the best possible levels within and beyond our continent.

You can count on UN Women, the broader UN family and our Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has already made it clear that he wants us to do more and better for Africa. Thank you for supporting UN Women and for opening up avenues that enhance our involvement with the AU.

Thank you for your attendance – despite the competing needs and priorities in your schedule – at 2015’s Global Leaders’ Meeting on gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which we co-hosted with China during the UN General Assembly.

You have laid a solid foundation of action. I especially thank you for raising the flag on education, which, like you I believe is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for the issues facing our demographic profile and the future of our beautiful continent.

Thank you for focusing on agriculture, which is a path to take in addressing African poverty and the empowerment of the millions of women who are the working poor in Africa, along with the women in the informal sector.

I salute you for taking up the fight on harmful cultural practices in Africa to the level of becoming one of the entrenched areas of work for the Sustainable Development Goals. We will continue to need your voice and to unite Africa in the vision that you have championed so strongly.

We are proud of the fact that when the SDGs were negotiated, Kenya was the co-Chair, Uganda was the President of the General Assembly and South Africa was Chairing G77 plus China. I had the privilege of being able to reach out to these three colleagues whenever we needed them as the negotiations unfolded. We were assured at every turn of their total commitment for an engendered outcome and a better world, and they did it.

The SDGs represent the most comprehensive agreement by UN Members since the adoption of the UN Charter, and the first after the Beijing Platform for Action to be so engendered. Member States worked with all partners, something which I have also learnt to embrace strongly. They worked as a team. This is a good thing for all of us to take as a lesson – that when we work together we are stronger and the outcomes we achieve are stronger.

Thank you ECA for embracing us, for supporting us, for providing the logistics and the intellectual contributions that helped our discussion.

Thank you to the AU for everything that you have done. We felt you every step of the way; when we were preparing and when we were here, and we know that you will always be beside us.

I also thank my team – the UN Women staff – for the work that you have done. Thank you for the dedication that ensured that in the SDGs negotiations we looked at every comma and full stop, so that anything and everything that we could grab for women was inside those negotiations. Thank you for that level of dedication.

And to the Minister, thank you for your time, thank you for the sleepless nights and thank you for the guidance. I look forward to this passion and dedication at CSW 61 and beyond.

To our young people – you rock. It has been wonderful to work with you, to be challenged by you, to be mentored by you and to be given new and brilliant ideas by you.

Thank you to civil society for always making sure that you help us to raise the bar and to be better.

I now would like to invite the young people to say thank you to the Chairperson of the AU and to give her a small token of our appreciation.


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